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Bola Sete: Samba in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse 1966-1968 (Tompkins Square)

A review of the guitarist's three-CD live collection

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Bola Sete: Samba in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse 1966-1968
The cover of Samba in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse 1966-1968 by Bola Sete

From his abrasive bunching of chords to his languid, lovely melodic flow, Bola Sete was the most deliciously puzzling of all Brazilian jazz and bossa/samba (and eventually New Age) guitarists. Inspired by the wind, the sun, and the improvisational groove of everyday people, Sete fashioned his inventive brand of bossa nova into something fleshy and sensual as well as smartly classical. That he made the very most out of impromptu live performance, famously at Seattle’s Penthouse jazz club with bassist Sebastião Neto and drummer Paulinho Magalhães, is the point of cobbling together such rare recordings.

Complete with many never-before-viewed photos of his visits to the Penthouse, this collection lets you see and feel Sete reaching for freedom. The cluttered, jiving clusterf-%k of “Consolação,” the fleet and trembling “Meditação,” the prickly, menacing madrigal of “Prelude No. 1” all show off the six-stringer at one with an intuitive rhythm within. Over the gigs and years in residency at the Penthouse, the Sete trio often repeated its “hits”—for example, the poppy “One Note Samba,” heard here in several takes—yet probably never once repeated even a single twitch.

Along with touching on the standards of samba and the burgeoning revolution in  Latin music, Sete appropriates jazz evergreens (“Satin Doll”) and the work of contemporary composers like Johnny Mandel (“The Shadow of Your Smile”) so uniquely that you’ll never think of them the same way. Both songs go from flinty funk to squeaky, haunted blues before their dramatic finales. “Satin Doll” in particular, with its nagging solo from bassist Neto, is freer than most playing we associate with bossa nova. That freedom stems from the hands, wrist, head, and soul of Bola Sete on a three-CD live collection that’s as elevating as it is haunting.

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